Worried about coronavirus while having sex? Wear a mask, says a new study
We are now all aware that we must stay six feet away from others to prevent the spread of the coronavirus —and to wear a face mask to prevent the spread of droplets.
So as ludicrous as it sounds, it may not be entirely surprising that according to a new study from Harvard, the safest way to prevent the spread of COVID-19, if you absolutely, positively must have sex with someone outside your home, is to wear a face mask.
The authors recommend “minimizing the number of sexual partners, avoiding sex partners with symptoms consistent with SARS-CoV-2, avoiding kissing and sexual behaviors with a risk for fecal-oral transmission or that involve semen or urine, wearing a mask, showering before and after sexual intercourse, and cleaning of the physical space with soap or alcohol wipes.”
How the Coronavirus Can and Cannot Spread
Sex And The Coronavirus – You walk into a crowded grocery store. A shopper has the coronavirus. What puts you most at risk of getting infected by that person?
Experts agree they have a great deal to learn, but four factors are likely to play some role: how close you get; how long you are near the person; whether that person projects viral droplets on you; and how much you touch your face. (Of course, your age and health are also major factors.)
Also, the larger the number of people in the store — or in any other situation — the greater the chance that you’ll cross paths with an infected person, which is why so many health officials are now urging people to avoid crowds and to cancel gatherings large and small.
And mucus and saliva droplets are ejected from the mouth or the nose as we cough, sneeze, laugh, sing, breathe and talk. If they don’t hit something along the way, they typically land on the floor or the ground. When the virus becomes suspended in droplets smaller than five micrometers — known as aerosols — it can stay suspended for about a half-hour, research suggests.
To gain access to your cells, the viral droplets must enter through the eyes, the nose or the mouth. Some experts believe that sneezing and coughing are most likely the primary forms of transmission. Professor Kwok said talking face-to-face or sharing a meal with someone could pose a risk.
Julian Tang, a virologist and a professor at the University of Leicester in England who is researching the coronavirus with Professor Kwok, agreed.
“If you can smell what someone had for lunch — garlic, curry, etc. — you are inhaling what they are breathing out, including any virus in their breath,” he said.
The virus does not linger in the air at high enough levels to be a risk to most people. But the techniques health care workers use to care for sick people can generate high levels of aerosols. This is part of why it’s so important that they have proper protective equipment.
How Sex Could Help Coronavirus Spread
“The sexual health implications of these recommendations have received little attention, even though it appears that all forms of in-person sexual contact carry risk for transmission of the virus,” said Dr. Jack Turban, study lead author and resident at Harvard Medical School, where he studies the mental health of transgender youth.
Sex puts partners within close proximity, so partners are likely to be exposed to those droplets. And since an estimated 35% of coronavirus patients are asymptomatic, sex could provide the prime conditions for infection.
How to make sex less risky, per the authors’ recommendations
The study maintains that abstinence offers the lowest risk of infection, but the authors acknowledge that it’s not a realistic option for many. What’s more, the idea of sex as “dangerous” could have “insidious psychological effects at a time when people are especially susceptible to mental health difficulties,” the authors say.
So the study takes a sex-positive approach. To better prevent infection, the authors write, people can reduce their number of sexual partners and avoid sex with people who show symptoms of Covid-19, including fever, cough, fatigue and loss of taste or smell.
In addition to wearing masks, people who have sex with partners outside of their home should also shower before and after, avoid sex acts that involve the oral transmission of bodily fluids and clean up the area afterward with soap or alcohol wipes to reduce their likelihood of infection.
The researchers also include recommendations for masturbation and digital sex, though people who engage in the latter should be aware of the security risks involved, the researchers said.
Sex between partners who’ve isolated together still presents some risk, because one partner might’ve been exposed to the virus if they’ve left the shared home. The researchers didn’t recommend a mask for partners in this situation, though.
What Our Doctor Says
There’s a good chance you’ll want to have actual sex, and if you don’t live with a partner, you may stray outside the home. We asked Dr. Deborah Lee, a medical writer at Dr Fox Online Pharmacy and a reproductive and sexual health expert, about what you can do to have safe sex during the pandemic.
“This a tricky one—not much!” she admits. She agrees with the findings of the study—see the beginning of this story to review their recommendations—and also wanted to impart the following advice:
- “Wash your hands and use alcohol gel before you meet another person, and then again before you re-enter your own household—that’s always important.
- COVID-19 has been found in semen even after the infection has resolved, However, this does not mean it is capable of sexual transmission, as there is no evidence the virus can reproduce in the genital tract. So, don’t get confused about this.
- There is also no suggestion that spermicides are effective against COVID-19.
- The virus can survive on plastic surfaces – which would include, for example, non-latex (polyurethane) condoms, for 2-3 days.
- Sheets should be laundered at 140 degrees Fahrenheit for half an hour to kill the virus. Most economy washes are only 86 degrees.
- Just as with the transmission of STI’s, the risk of passing on or acquiring infection is associated with having multiple partners, frequent change of partners, and overlapping partners. If there was ever a time for monogamy—it’s now! It’s a horrible double whammy to give someone not just chlamydia but COVID-19 as well!”